The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

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G5 Heveskesklooster (Hunebed)

Excavations at Hunebed G5 Heveskesklooster

Excavations at the mound harbouring the remains of the ancient monastery at Heveskesklooster in 1982 provided archaeologists with a major surprise. After peeling away some two metres of clay, followed by a layer of peat, the top of a large boulder was revealed. Jokingly, lead archaeologist Professor H T Waterbolk suggested that it might be a hunebed. But it was soon evident that it was no joke: it was indeed a hitherto unsuspected hunebed, by far the most northerly in the Netherlands.

Hunebedden were typically built in sandy terrain, and Hunebed D5 Heveskesklooster was no exception. The covering layer of clay had arisen because sea-level was at least four metres lower than today during the Neolithic Age, when G5 was constructed: during the millennia since, the site of G5 has been overcome by the sea, allowing deposits of mud to cover it.

Following a year of excavation and study, it was revealed that the dolmen dated from approximately 2500 BCE, about 500 years younger than most hunebeddeden, and that despite being buried, it was by no means in perfect condition. The capstones had been moved from their supports and the sidestones had all been toppled sideways while large chunks broken off some of the stones were strewn around. In addition, the floor of the grave passage had been partly excavated.

Discoveries of just a few flints, axes and amber beads dating from the Funnel Beaker Culture established the age of the hunebed, but the majority of pottery fragments and arrowheads found were considerably younger, estimated as between 2000-1800 BCE. It is theorised that, during this period, the granite stones of G5 may have been utilised as a home/shelter, and may have been vandalised in order to produce millstones for grinding grain.

Eppiesbergje (Round Cairn)

Although originally constructed as a grave for an important person during the age of the Single Grave Culture between 2850-2450 BCE, Eppiesbergje was again used for interments between 1800-1100 BCE during the Middle Bronze Age when a second tomb was built into its side. At the same time, the mound was raised and reinforced with a layer of boulders. Shortly after, a third interment was made, this time in the top of the mound, after which relatives then dug a ditch around it. Today, Eppiesbergje is the sole survivor of a large cemetery that stood here during the New Stone Age, when the mound lay between three similar, older ones, with additionally, hunebedden to its northwest and south. A later addition was a large ‘urnfield’, where cremated remains of the region’s dead were buried in urns, beneath low mounds.

This cemetery was part of a string of burial sites between Emmen and Odoorn, probably following the line of a prehistoric route through this part of Drenthe.

Investigated by archaeologist A E van Giffen  in 1935, several finds came to light, including a hammer-axe, a fragment of a bronze needle and, in the ring ditch, two whole urns.

Unfortunately, around 1916, the heath between Exloo and Valthe was ploughed up: and after World War II, other parts of Drenthe rapidly followed suit. Many ancient antiquities were damaged: particularly, many of the barrows located on the moors were damaged or destroyed.

The name Eppiesbergje is believed to derive from that of a former owner of the adjacent land, one Egbert (Eppie) Fox, who was hanged here.

D53 Havelteberg (Hunebed)

Saving Hunebed D53

In 1945, during World War II, D53 Havelte—the second largest hunebed in the Netherlands after D27 Borger—faced iminent destruction. The occupying German authorities had earmarked an area close by as the site for a new airfield, and considered that the proximity of this huge monument would simply draw attention to the airfield and act as a marker for allied bombing missions.

Fortunately, professor Albert van Giffen was able to strike a deal whereby the hunebed was dismantled and its 50 or so boulders stored in a six metre deep pit nearby. The smaller D54 Havelte was left standing, but was camouflaged beneath a hill of sand.

Immediately after the war, the components of D53 were dug up again, and by the end of 1949 the task of reconstructing the passage grave was under way, based on detailed drawings and photographs made by Van Giffen during his 1918 survey of the monument. By early 1950, just three months later, the hunebed was fully restored on its site, as if it had never been removed.

Rolde (Complex)

Antonius Schonhovius Batavius, canon of Bruges, wrote of these hunebeden in 1537 as the remains of what the Roman senator and historian Tacitus had dubbed The Pillars of Hercules of Vico Roelden (village of Rolde). A map of 1642 showed the hunebedden as 'Reuzenstien' (giant stones) and a source published in 1688 called them 'Steenbergh'. An excavation of D17 in 1706 recovered a 'blue pot' decorated with glittering gold stripes.

D10 Gasteren (Hunebed)

Translation of the text in the photograph of the D10 Gasteren Information Stone

(This stone has now been replaced by a more modern information board)

Agriculture and animal husbandry of the Hunebed builders
The study of pollen grains, which have been preserved for thousands of years under the dolmens, gives us information about the environment at that time, and the impact of humans on it.

The fields lay as small open spots in extensive oak forests. The trees were felled with stone axes. The remaining stumps and bushes were burned so that the ash would improve fertility. They grew buckwheat, barley and flax.

Ploughs and wagons were pulled by oxen. Cows, goats and sheep grazed in clearings in the woods and along the streams. Pigs rooted around in the forest. Everyone kept dogs, but not yet chickens. Hunting and gathering were not forgotten. Game, fish, poultry, fruits and nuts provided variety and vitamins.

Polished flint axe of the megaliths builders
Axes like this had a shaft and were used for cutting down trees for the construction of houses and to clear land for agriculture.

D49 Schoonoord (Hunebed)

Reconstruction of the Hunebed

When Professor A E van Giffen first visited hunebed D49 in 1919 it was in a very poor state. Standing in an open, treeless setting, it had been ravaged by stone robbing during the 18th and 19th centuries to such an extent that only nine stones remained, only one of them a capstone (the stolen stones would probably have been used to reinforce coastal defences). Following further research in 1925, Van Giffen came up with the idea of undertaking a complete reconstruction of hunebed D49, to create, for educational purposes, an idealised hunebed as it would have appeared when originally built 5000 years ago. To show how the hunebed looked both with and without a covering mound, two-thirds of the monument were to be hidden under a barrow.

Although details of the plan were finalised by 1934, it was not until a full excavation of the dolmen had been undertaken in 1958 to gather as much information as possible on the original positions and number of stones that the matter was finally progressed. A total of four capstones, two sidestones, ten kerbstones, four passage sidestones and a passage capstone were brought to the site in order to reconstruct the monument, many of them originating from the destroyed hunebed D33 Valtherveld. Among the reasons for selecting D49 for this reconstruction, apart from its original sorry state, was the fact that it was now secluded in a State Forest and that the area could be easily closed off from the public by fencing.

D49 was reconstructed with new flooring and dry masonry between the stones, and two thirds of the passage was buried under a mound. Inside the passage, a fence prevented access to the crypt, where some facsimiles of Funnel Beaker pottery, based on discoveries made at D19 Drouwen were placed. Unfortunately, these were so realistic that they were stolen. When some of them turned up again, they were acquired by the Harderwijks Museum in 1965 in the belief that they were original Funnel Beaker artefacts.

Once reconstruction was completed in 1959, visitors had for several years to pay an entrance fee to visit the monument, which was only allowed with a guide. D49 is the only hunebed in the Netherlands that shows what a hunebed originally looked like.

Read more about D49 in Hans Meijer's Dolmens of the Netherlands.

D7 Kniphorstbos (Hunebed)

The Strubben Kniphorstbos is an area of some 150 hectares of predominently oak woodland, located between Anloo and Schipborg in the Dutch province of Drenthe. It contains two hunebedden (D7 and D8) as well as some 60 Bronze Age burial mounds, and was declared the Netherlands' first (and currently only) archaeological reserve in 2001. Its double name derives from the special way in which its native oak trees were originally cultivated (strubben), and from Gerrit Kniphorst, a 19th century lawyer and politician who was the landowner.

'Strub' is the Dutch word for 'Stump'. When this woodland was originally planted, the oak trees bordering the fields and moors were cut down to stumps to encourage the growth of a thick oak coppice with typically squat stems. The idea was that the coppice would act as barriers to keep sheep in their fields. But the constant nibbling of the young oak stems by sheep meant that tall growth was impossible, turning the trees into gnarled shrubby specimens—the so-called 'strubben'.

D48 Stone of Noordbarge (Natural Rock Feature)

D48 Noordbargerbos (the Stone of Noordbarge), was at one time thought to be a capstone belonging to a buried hunebed and was included by archaeologist A E van Giffen in his original list of hunebedden. However, it later turned out that it was simply a single—though exceptionally large—erratic boulder.

This stone, located in the Noordbargerbos to the southwest of Emmen, is the largest megalith of the Netherlands. The Stone sits on the roadside verge to the north of Ermerweg, a little after its intersection with Nieuwe Amsterdamsestraat, about 300 metres west of the Noordbarge bus halt. Bus line 21 from Emmen to Assen will take you there.

D33 Valtherveld (Hunebed)

Destroyed Hunebed

Hunebed D33 (formerly a member of a hunebed pair with D34) stood, as little more than a dilapidated cairn, some 150 metres to the north of its near neighbour, D34 Valthe, until the 1950s. But nothing of it remains today.

When Hunebed D33 Valtherveld was surveyed by A E van Giffen in 1918, it was already in a state of almost total disrepair, with only nine large boulders remaining on the site and barely recognisable as a hunebed. Later detailed excavation of the site in 1954 found that even the internal stone pavement had been completely destroyed.

It was around this time that moves were underway to restore some of the hunebedden, and Van Giffen, who was in charge of this project, realised that there was little at D33 that could meaningfully be improved upon. He determined that the stones could best be used in the restoration of other hunebedden, and they were removed for safe keeping in 1955.

On March 23, 1956, the large boulders were transported to the site of Hunebed D49 Schoonoord—popularly known as the Papeloze Kerk—and used in its reconstruction in 1958.
A keen hillwalker most of my life, my interest was restricted when the need arose to care for an ageing parent.

With limited opportunities to travel far from home, I 'discovered' the world of stone circles, mainly in my native Aberdeenshire.

This provided the ideal opportunity for short walks of just a few hours duration, and resulted in me visiting many places of interest that I had never considered previously.

Stone Circles of NE Scotland
Here you will find both Google and Bing maps displaying more than 100 sites of stone circles, the majority in my native Aberdeenshire. The markers on the maps are clickable, to reveal a photo of the stone circle and a link to RCAHMS-Carnmore's Site Record.

A menu at the side of the maps allows you to zoom in to any individual circle, viewing its environs as a zoomable aerial photograph (Google) or an OS Map (Bing).

I've since extended my interest to the megalithic remains in The Netherlands, where there are some magnificent passage graves known as hunebedden (giant's beds). Despite the fact that The Netherlands is essentially flat and sandy, these 5000 year old monuments from the Funnel Beaker Culture are often found in exquisite woodland settings, nearly all of them in the province of Drenthe. There are almost limitless opportunities for delightful walks between small villages, taking in a diversion to a hunebed here and there.

My TMA Content: